Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Darfur bears the brunt of Sudan’s conflict
Much of the coverage of Sudan’s conflict has focused on the battle for Khartoum. But some of the worst fighting has occurred in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state. On top of combat between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), clashes have broken out in the town between local RSF-aligned Arab militias and members of the area’s non-Arab Masalit group. A Sudanese doctors’ union said 280 people were killed in just two days this month, while other local groups said the total death toll now exceeds 2,000. More than 150,000 people from the town and surrounding areas have been displaced, many to neighbouring Chad. The security situation has been better in Darfur’s other main towns after community leaders brokered ceasefires between the army and RSF, but some of these initiatives now appear to be breaking down. Across the country, over half the population needs aid – some 25 million people, the highest ever recorded in Sudan – according to the UN, which launched an appeal for $3 billion in funding.
Restrictions slow aid after Cyclone Mocha
Cyclone Mocha left widespread destruction in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. But aid groups and local communities are still trying to get a clearer picture of the damage days after the storm’s 14 May landfall, with parts of the state and neighbouring areas still cut from communications and direct access. Casualties are expected to rise; a Rohingya diaspora group said Cyclone Mocha killed at least 400 people in neglected internal displacement camps. “No humanitarian aid has reached the affected Rohingya people,” Tun Khin, head of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, said in a statement. International aid groups said they are pushing for authorities to loosen restrictions that have long hampered relief across Myanmar. Civil society groups in Rakhine – as well as leaders of a rebel government and the Arakan Army armed group – are raising funds and delivering aid in some areas. International aid access in Myanmar has always been volatile, and restrictions have continued after the military junta seized power in a February 2021 coup. Rakhine state – also home to Myanmar’s embattled Rohingya minority – is particularly closed off. Years after a military purge pushed hundreds of thousands of people into Bangladesh, Rohingya still in Rakhine State face apartheid-like conditions. Some 140,000 people live in camps that lack basic infrastructure, “contributing to a growing tally of preventable deaths and annual threats from extreme weather,” Human Rights Watch said.
Food cuts lead to rising malnutrition in refugee camps
Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee-hosting country and has been widely praised for the way it treats people seeking safety. But aid groups are warning that recent cuts to humanitarian funding are leaving refugees in a bad way. According to the International Rescue Committee, levels of acute malnutrition are rising among women and children in different settlements, with dietary diversity “sharply impacted” by food ration reductions. A funding crunch has forced the World Food Programme to embark on a “prioritisation” exercise that will mean some refugees no longer receive food aid, while others will get significantly reduced amounts. Aid groups are expecting the process will result in refugee households leaving the settlements (many already have) and will create safety concerns for their own staff working in camps. WFP cuts are also affecting refugees in other countries, from Burundi – where rations are being slashed by half – to the Rohingya in Bangladesh, where food vouchers were reduced in March and are likely to be lowered again, unless money is forthcoming.
Another reprieve for Black Sea grain deal
Russia has agreed to a two-month extension of the Black Sea grain deal that allows safe passage for Ukrainian maize and wheat to hungry world markets. Question marks had hung over the survival of the Turkish and UN-brokered agreement after Russia had threatened to bow out. Moscow argues a separate deal, to facilitate the shipments of Russian food and fertiliser, has not been upheld. Yet there was no mention of concessions when Türkiye announced the extension of the grain agreement – amid profuse thanks to President Vladimir Putin. The deal is a key step in stabilising global food prices. They rocketed last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hurting consumers in the many countries reliant on Ukrainian exports. It’s the third extension of the initiative since it was first agreed in July 2022, with negotiations fraught each time. But although plugging Ukraine back into the international food system is important, it doesn’t ease the processing and transport costs, also driving up prices in local markets.
Deportations of Syrian refugees sow fear in Lebanon
The Lebanese government is continuing a wave of raids and deportations of Syrian refugees, “creating anxiety and panic” among the community of 1.5 to 2 million people who have fled their country’s war. Lebanon has not allowed the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to register new refugees since 2015, meaning that many have had trouble acquiring or updating residency papers. Amid anti-refugee rhetoric from politicians, who have long used Syrians as a scapegoat for Lebanon’s disastrous economic collapse (despite not being the cause), Médecins Sans Frontières says that many refugees are too afraid to leave the safety of their homes to seek medical care. Meanwhile, the country’s economic crisis shows no sign of abating. On 16 May, a French judge issued an international arrest warrant for the longtime governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, who European countries are investigating – along with other associates and officials – on allegations of fraud and illicit enrichment of $330 million worth of public money.
The world nears a climate threshold
Global temperature rise is almost certain to exceed the crucial 1.5C threshold in the next five years, according to new research by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Experts say limiting temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is necessary to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – including more frequent droughts, heat waves, floods, and wildfires that help worsen humanitarian crises. Researchers attribute the latest projections to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and the looming El Niño weather pattern. Breaking the 1.5C threshold is likely to be temporary, the WMO says, meaning there is still time to cut emissions.
What’s on the agenda at the World Health Assembly
The World Health Organization’s annual ministerial meetings begin 21 May in Geneva, with a heavy focus on pandemic preparedness and a more reliable budget. Countries use the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, to influence global health policy. Among the issues that could spark fireworks, according to Health Policy Watch: language over reproductive health; geopolitics, with Russia’s Ukraine invasion top of mind and the US and China tussling over Taiwan’s status; and the right way to increase WHO’s funding. How the WHO addresses aid worker sexual abuse and exploitation will be one of many issues raised, at least as part of broader audit reports. A potential new treaty on pandemic preparedness is in tight negotiations and won’t see daylight until next year’s meetings. But the WHO’s oversight committee, comprising senior experts from governments and the aid system, is one of many bodies asking whether the health agency is prepared. The WHO’s health emergencies programme is “overstretched”, the committee warned in a report going before the assembly: “[It] would encounter tremendous difficulties in the event of a new pandemic like COVID-19.”
In case you missed it
BIG CHOCOLATE: The world’s biggest chocolate producers are making record profits – but are failing to pass on the benefits to cocoa farmers, according to a report by the charity Oxfam. Up to 90% of cocoa farmers in Ghana – one of the world’s largest cocoa producers – do not earn a living wage, with women farmers particularly badly affected.
CHILE: Chile passed a new reparations law for victims of femicide, which establishes a $200 monthly state allowance for victims’ children until they reach the age of 18. The bill also grants one-year labour privileges to survivors of attempted femicide, which Chile defines as the murder of a woman by a partner or former partner. This is a new step towards protecting women; in 2020, Chile toughened sentencing in gender-based violence cases. According to the UN, nearly 4,500 women were victims of femicide in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021.
ETHIOPIA: The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed opposition group in Ethiopia, has accused the government of launching an “all-out offensive” against them after peace talks between the two sides failed earlier this month. The group has accused government troops of burning homes, robbing people, and committing sexual violence across Oromia region, which surrounds the capital, Addis Ababa. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has not yet commented on the accusations.
EUROPEAN UNION: The majority of the European Union’s 27 member states did not resettle a single refugee in 2022. Overall, countries in the bloc – home to almost 450 million people – resettled just 16,695 refugees, falling short of a pledge made by the EU to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to resettle more than 20,000 refugees last year. Globally, there are more than 32.5 million refugees, 74% of whom are hosted in lower- and middle-income countries.
GAZA: A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad came into effect on 13 May, after five days of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and rocket fire from the militant group. At least 33 Palestinians – including 12 civilians – were reportedly killed by the bombing and fighting, and rocket fire killed two people inside Israel.
Hear from Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun in a new edition of our “Snapshots” series, featuring photos he took of a family whose home was destroyed by the airstrikes:
GERMANY: Chancellor Olaf Scholz has proposed plans to tighten controls at Germany’s borders following an increase in the number of asylum seekers and migrants entering the country this year. Scholz also said he would encourage the European Union to set up asylum processing centres at the bloc’s external border.s The plan drew condemnation from more than 50 German humanitarian organisations who said such centres would lead to human rights violations and diminished legal protections.
SOMALIA: Almost a quarter of a million people have been displaced by flooding in central Somalia after the Shebelle River burst its banks and submerged the town of Beledweyne. If the heavy rains continue in Somalia, and upstream in the Ethiopian highlands, as many as 600,000 people could be washed out of their homes in the coming weeks, the UN has warned.
SYRIA: The Syrian government has extended by three months the UN’s permission to use additional border crossings to bring aid from Türkiye into northern Syria. A UN Security Council resolution only allows access through one border crossing, but President Bashar al-Assad approved the temporary use of two extra crossings after the early February earthquakes.
TÜRKIYE: After neither candidate failed to secure 50% of the vote on 14 May, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will face a runoff election on 28 May. The country faces an economic crisis amid a slew of humanitarian challenges, and Kılıçdaroğlu has taken a hardline nationalist and anti-migrant stance, vowing to deport “10 million refugees” should he win.
US-MEXICO BORDER: An 8-year-old girl from Panama died in US Border Patrol custody on 17 May. It was the second death of a child in Border Patrol custody in the past two weeks. Agency facilities have been overcrowded since asylum seekers and migrants rushed to cross the border before the expiration of pandemic-era asylum restrictions known as Title 42 on 11 May. Fewer people crossed the border than expected after the policy ended. But the humanitarian crisis caused by US migration policies in northern Mexico looks poised to continue. For more, read: How the US-Mexico border became an unrelenting humanitarian crisis.
Surging gang violence across Latin America challenges aid sector to respond
Gang violence has long been a neglected humanitarian issue in Latin America and the Caribbean, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes every year, either to become internally displaced or to seek refuge or more secure lives abroad. There are other common byproducts too, including higher gender-based violence, economic deprivation, and increased hunger, not to mention entire generations of children whose futures are being stolen. Latin America Editor-at-large Daniela Mohor has launched a new series, Gangs Out of Control, that examines the spread of gangs and the failure of regional governments to control the violence. Her initial overview lays out the scale of the problem, explores the humanitarian fallout, and points to some large gaps in the aid response. This intensifying violence presents a relatively new and unorthodox challenge for humanitarians more used to operating in war zones and disasters. But getting to grips with this challenge may rise up the sector’s priority list: In the worst-hit countries like Haiti, the violence is so extreme that it is driving some communities towards starvation – famine is now feared as half the population of 10 million is gripped by a hunger crisis, even as the insecurity often means aid agencies are unable to reach those in need.
Art can be a powerful way to process trauma, and The Guardian has two articles that put the spotlight on how Iraqi music is doing just that, 20 years after the US-led invasion. The piece on rap explains that Iraqi artists tend towards satire as they utilise a genre that comes from “the country responsible for their nation’s predicament.” Sometimes this connection is quite literal: Iraqi music producer UsFoxx first heard 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” thumping from an American Humvee that was patrolling near his home back in 2004. The pieces showcase lyrics about oil, corruption, war, and some truly excellent beats. Music from Iraq and the Iraqi diaspora aren’t just about war, of course, and there are many types of music coming out of the country. But current events do have an important and lasting impact on culture: British-Iraqi manager Nazar Risafi says that mass protests, which began in October 2019 and lasted around two years, led to music about revolution, as well as new collaborations between Iraqi musicians and others around the world. We recommend having a read and a listen.